THE GRAMMAR OF VERSE, OR PROSODY.
1. Verse is the form of poetry; and
Prosody is the part of Grammar which deals with the laws and nature of
(i) Verse comes from
the Latin versa, turned.
Oratio versa was “turned speech”—that
is, when the line came to an end, the reader or writer or printer had to begin a
new line. It is opposed to oratio prorsa, which means “straight-on
speech”—whence our word prose.
A line in prose may be of any
length; a line in verse must be of the length which the poet gives to it.
(ii) It is of importance for us to become acquainted with the laws of
verse. First, because it enables us to enjoy poetry more. Secondly, it
enables us to read poetry better—and to avoid putting an emphasis on a
syllable, merely because it is accented. Thirdly, it shows us how to write
verse; and the writing of verse is very good practice in composition—as it
compels us to choose the right phrase, and makes us draw upon our store of
words to substitute and to improve here or there.
2. Verse differs from prose in two
things: (i) in the regular recurrence of accents; and (ii) in the
proportion of unaccented to accented syllables.
(i) Thus, in the line
In an´swer nought´ could An´gus speak´,
the accent occurs regularly in every second syllable.
(ii) But, in the line
Mer´rily, mer´rily, shall´ we live now´,
the accent not only comes first, but there are two unaccented syllables
for every one that is accented (except in the last foot).
3. Every English word of more than one
syllable has an accent on
one of its syllables.
(i) Begin´, commend´,
attack´ have the accent on the last syllable.
(ii) Hap´py, la´dy,
wel´come have the accent on the first syllable.
English verse is made up of
each line of verse contains a
fixed number of accents; each accent has a
fixed number of unaccented syllables attached to it.
(i) Let us take these lines
from ‘Marmion’ (canto v.):—
loves´ | not more´ | the night´ | of June´
Than dull´ | Decem´ | ber’s gloom´ | of noon´?
Each line here contains four accents; the accented syllable comes
last; each accented
syllable has one unaccented attached to it.
(ii) Now let us compare
these lines from T. Hood’s “Bridge of Sighs”:
Touch´ her not | scorn´fully,
Think´ of her | mourn´fully.
Each line here contains two accents; the accented syllable comes
first; and each accented
syllable has two unaccented syllables attached to it.
accented syllable + one or
two unaccented, taken together, is called a
foot. A foot is the
unit of a metre.
Let x stand for an
unaccented, and a for an accented syllable.
6. One accented
unaccented syllable is called an
Iambus. Its formula is
accented syllable followed by one unaccented is called a
Its formula is ax.
(i) The following are iambuses: Perhaps´; condemn´; compel´; without´; career´.
(ii) The following are trochees: Gen´tle; riv´er; la´dy; ra´ven; tum´ble.
(iii) The following verse is made up of four iambuses—that is, it is
’Twere long´, | and need´ | less, here´ | to
to my hand these papers fell.
(iv) The following verse is
made up of four trochees—that is, it is trochaic:—
his | cham´ber, | weak´ and | dy´ing
the Norman baron lying.
(v) Iam´ | bics march´ |
from short´ | to long´.
(vi) Tro´chee | trips´ from
| long´ to | short´— |.
7. One accented syllable
by two unaccented is called an
Anapæst. Its formula is
accented syllable followed by
two unaccented is called a
Dactyl. Its formula is
(i) The following are anapæsts: Serenade´; disappear´; comprehend´; intercede´.
(ii) The following are dactyls: Hap´pily; mer´rily; sim´ilar; bil´lowy.
(iii) The following lines
are in anapæstic verse:—
am mon´ | arch of all´ | I survey´,
My right there is none to dispute.
(iv) With a leap´ | and a
bound´ | the swift an´ | apæsts throng´ |.
(v) The following are in dactylic verse:—
Can´non to | right´ of them |
Can´non to | left´ of them |.
word dactyl comes from the Greek
daktŭlos, a finger. For a finger
has one long and
two short joints.
word anapæst comes from two Greek words:
paio, I strike, and
ana, back; because it is the reverse of a dactyl.
8. The Anapæst belongs to the same kind
or system of verse as the Iambus; because the accented syllable in each
comes last.—The Dactyl belongs to the same kind or
as the Trochee; because the accented syllable in each comes
(i) Hence anapæsts and
iambuses may be mixed (as in “My right´ | there is none´ | to dispute´ | ”); and
so may dactyls and trochees (as in “Hark´ to the | sum´mons | ”).
(ii) But we very seldom see a trochee introduced into an iambic line; or
an iambus into a trochaic.
9. An accented syllable with
unaccented syllable on each side of it is called an
Its formula is xax.
The word amphibrach comes
from two Greek words: amphi, on both sides; and
(i) The following are amphibrachs: Despair´ing; almight´y; tremend´ous; deceit´ful.
(ii) The following is an amphibrachic line:—
There came´ to | the beach´ a | poor ex´ile | of E´rin |.
10. A verse made up of iambuses is called
Verse; of trochees,
Trochaic; of anapæsts, Anapæstic;
and of dactyls, Dactylic.
11. A verse of three feet is called
of four feet,
of five feet, Pentameter;
and of six feet, Hexameter.
(i) We find the prefixes of these words in Triangle; Tetrarch (a ruler over a
fourth part); Pentateuch (the
five books of Moses); and
Hexagon (a figure
with six corners or angles).
12. By much the most usual kind of verse
in English is Iambic Verse.
(i) Iambic Tetrameter
(4xa) is the metre of most of Scott’s poems; of Coventry Patmore’s
“Angel in the House”; of Gay’s Fables, and many other poems of the eighteenth
(ii) Iambic Pentameter
(5xa) is the most common line in English verse. There are probably
more than a thousand iambic pentameter lines for one that there exists of any
other kind. Iambic Pentameter is the verse of Chaucer, of Shakespeare, of
Milton, of Dryden, of Pope, and of almost all our greater English poets.
13. Rhymed Iambic Pentameter is called
Heroic Verse; unrhymed, it is called
(i) Any unrhymed verse may be called blank—such as the verse employed by Longfellow in his
“Hiawatha”—but the term is usually restricted to the unrhymed iambic pentameter.
(ii) Blank verse is the noblest of all verse. It seems the easiest to write; it
most difficult. It is the verse of Shakespeare and Milton, and most of our great
14. Iambic Trimeter consists of
three iambuses; and its formula is 3xa.
The king´ |
was on´ | his throne´; |
His sa´ |
traps thronged´ | the hall´; |
A thou´ |
sand bright´ | lamps shone´ |
On that´ |
high fes´ | tival´. |
There is very little of this kind of verse in
15. Iambic Tetrameter consists of four
iambuses; and its formula is 4xa.
The fire,´ |
with well´ | dried logs´ | supplied,´ |
Went roar´ | ing up´ | the chim´ | ney wide´; |
The huge´ |
hall-ta´ | ble’s oak´ | en face´ |
till´ | it shone,´ | the day´ | to grace.´ |
There is a good deal of this verse in English;
and most of it is by Scott.
Iambic Tetrameter with Iambic
Trimeter in alternate lines—the second and fourth rhyming—is called
Metre. When used, as it often is, in hymns, it is called Service Metre.
They set him
high upon a cart; = 4xa
hangman rode below; = 3xa
his hands behind his back, = 4xa
bared his noble brow. = 3xa
This is the metre of Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient
Rome,’ of Scott’s ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ and many other poems. Scott mixes
frequently, but at quite irregular intervals, the iambic trimeter with the
iambic tetrameter; and this he called the “light-horse gallop of verse.”
flank, and rear, the squadrons sweep = 4xa
To break the
Scottish circle deep, = 4xa
That fought´ | around´ | their king.´ = 3xa
17. Iambic Pentameter consists of five
iambuses; and its formula is 5xa.
(i) The following is rhymed iambic pentameter:—
True wit´ | is na´ | ture to´ | advan´ | tage dressed,´ | = 5xa
What oft´ | was thought,´ | but ne’er´ | so well´ | expressed.´ = |
(ii) The following is unrhymed iambic pentameter:—
all´ | do know´ | this man´ | tle; I´ | remem´ | ber = | 5xa
first´ | time ev´ | er Cæs´ | ar put´ | it on´. | = 5xa.
The first extract is from Pope’s “Essay on
Criticism”; the second from Shakespeare’s “Julius Cæsar.”
18. Iambic Hexameter consists of six
iambuses; and its formula is 6xa.
(i) The following is from
Upon the Midlands now the industrious muse doth fall, | = 6xa
That shire which we the heart of England well may call. | = 6xa
The objection to this kind of verse is its
intolerable monotony. It pretends to be hexameter; but it is indeed simply two
trimeter verses printed in one long line. The monotony comes from the fact that
the pause is always in the middle of the line. There is very little of this kind
of verse in English. The line of 6xa is also called an
is used to close the long stanza employed by Spenser.
19. Trochaic Tetrameter consists
of four trochees; and its formula is 4ax.
(i) The following is rhymed
When the heathen trumpet’s clang – | = 4ax
Round beleaguered Chester rang, – | = 4ax
Veilëd nun and friar gray – | = 4ax
Marched from Bangor’s fair abbaye – | = 4ax
It will be noticed that each line has a syllable
wanting to make up the four complete feet. But the missing syllable is only an
unaccented syllable; and the line contains four accents. (The above
extract is from “The Monks of Bangor’s March,” by Scott.)
(ii) The following is unrhymed trochaic tetrameter:—
Then the | little | Hia | watha | = 4ax
Learned of | ev’ry | bird the | language, | = 4ax
Learned their | names and | all their | secrets, | 4ax
they | built their | nests in | summer, | = 4ax
Where they | hid them | selves in | winter, | = 4ax
Talked with | them when | e’er he | met them, | = 4ax
Called them | “Hia | watha’s | Chickens.” | = 4ax
It will be observed that, in the above lines
from Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” each trochee is complete; and this is the case
throughout the whole of this poem. “Hiawatha” is the only long poem in the
language that is written in unrhymed trochees.
20. Trochaic Octometer consists of eight
trochees; and its formula is 8ax.
(i) The chief example of it that we have is Tennyson’s poem of “Locksley
Com´rades, | leave´ me |
here´ a | lit´tle, | while´ as | yet´ ’tis | ear´ly | morn´ – | = 8ax
Leave´ me | here´, and, |
when´ you | want´ me | sound´ up | on´ the | bu´gle | horn’ – | = 8ax
(ii) There is a syllable wanting in each line of “Locksley Hall”; but it
is only an unaccented syllable. Each line consists of eight accents.
21. Anapæstic Tetrameter consists of four
anapæsts; and its formula is 4xxa.
(i) There is very little
anapæstic verse in English; and what little there exists is written in
(ii) The following lines,
from “Macgregors’ Gathering,” by Scott, is in anapæstic verse:—
The moon’s´ | on the
lake´, | and the mist’s´ | on the brae´, | = 4xxa
And the clan´ | has a
name´ | that is name´ | less by day´. | = 4xxa
(iii) It will be observed
that the first line begins with an iambus. This is admissible; because an iambus
and an anapæst, both having the accented syllable last, belong to the same
22. Dactylic Dimeter consists of two
dactyls; and its formula is 2axx.
(i) A well-known example is Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.”
Can´non to | right´
of them, | 2axx
Can´non to | left´ of them, | 2axx
Can´non be | hind´
them, – | 2axx
and | thun´dered. – | 2axx
(ii) It will be observed
that the last two lines want a syllable to make up the two dactyls. Such a line
is said to be = 2axx – (minus).
(iii) Or we may say that
the last foot is a trochee; for a trochee and a dactyl can go together in one
line, both belonging to the same system—both having their accented syllable
23. Dactylic Tetrameter consists of
dactyls; and its formula is 4axx.
(i) Bishop’s Heber’s hymn
is one of the best examples:—
Bright´est and | best´ of
the | sons´ of the | morn´ing.
(ii) The last foot here
again is a trochee.
(iii) There is very little
of this kind of verse in English poetry.
24. Amphibrachic Tetrameter consists of
four amphibrachs; and its formula is 4xax.
(i) Campbell’s well-known poem is a good example:—
There came´ to | the beach´
a | poor ex´ile | of E´rin.
(ii) There are very few examples in English of this kind of verse.
The following lines by Coleridge give
both examples and descriptions of the most important metres explained in the
preceding paragraphs. It must be observed that Coleridge uses the term
for accented; and
Tro´chee | trips´
from | long´ to | short´— |
From long to long in solemn sort,
Slow spon | dee
stalks || strong´ foot, yet | ill´ able
E´ver to | come´
up with | dac´tyl tri | syl´lable | .
Iam´ | bics march´
| from sho´rt | to long´ | ;
With a leap´ | and a
bound´ | the swift an´ | apæsts throng´ | ;
One syl´la | ble
long´ with | one short´ at | each side— |
Amphi´brach | ys
hastes´ with | a state´ly | stride.
A verse with a syllable
and above the number of feet of which it consists is called
(i) Thus, Coleridge has, in his “Ancient Mariner”—
Day af | ter day, | day af
| ter day, |
We stuck: | nor breath
| nor mo | tion, (hyper)
As id | le as | a paint |
ed ship |
Upon | a paint | ed o |
Here the syllables tion
and cean are
over from the iambic trimeter verse, and the line is
therefore said to be hypermetrical.
A verse with a syllable
to the number of feet of which it consists is said to be
(i) Thus, in Scott’s “Monks of Bangor”—
Slaugh´tered | down´ by | heath´en | blade´– | 4ax-
| peace´ful | monks´ are | laid´.– | 4ax-
we find a syllable wanting to each line. But that syllable is an
unaccented one; and the verse consists of four trochees minus one syllable, or 4ax-.
(ii) Caution!—Some persons confuse the defective with the
hypermetrical line. Thus, in the verses—
Shall´ I | was´ting
| in´ de | spair´, – |
Die´ be | cause a | wom´an’s | fair´? – |
the syllable spair is not hypermetrical.
An unaccented syllable is wanting to it; and the lines are 4ax defective or
has been defined by Milton as
the “jingling sound of like endings.” It may also be defined as a
sound at the
ends of lines in poetry.
(i) Rhyme is properly spelled rime. The word originally meant
number; and the
Old English word for arithmetic was
rime-craft. It received its
present set of letters from a confusion with the Greek word rhythm, which
means a flowing.
(ii) Professor Skeat says “it is one of the worst-spelt words in the
language.” “It is,” he says, “impossible to find an instance of spelling
rhyme before 1550.” Shakespeare generally wrote rime.
29. No rhyme can be good unless it
satisfies four conditions. These are:—
1. The rhyming syllable must be accented. Thus
ring´ rhymes with
but not with think´ing.
2. The vowel sound
must be the same—to the ear, that is; though not necessarily to the eye. Thus
close are not good rhymes.
3. The final consonant must be the same. (Mix and
tricks are good rhymes; because x =
4. The preceding consonant must be different.
Beat and feet; jump and bump are good
30. The English language is very poor in
rhymes, when compared wth Italian or German. Accordingly,
admissible, and are frequently employed.
The following rhymes may be used:—
rhythm or musical flow of
verse depends on the varied succession of phrases of different lengths. But,
most of all, it is upon the Cæsura, and the position of the Cæsura, that
musical flow depends.
The word cæsura is a Latin word, and means a cutting.
32. The Cæsura in a line is the rest
or halt or break or pause for the voice in reading aloud. It is found in short
as well as in long lines.
(i) The following is an example from the short lines of ‘Marmion’ (vi.
1½ More pleased that || in a barbarous age
2½ He gave rude Scotland || Virgil’s page,
Than || that beneath his rule he held
The bishopric || of fair Dunkeld.
It will be seen from this
that Sir Walter Scott takes care to vary the position of the cæsura in each
line—sometimes having it after 1½ feet, sometimes after 2; and so on.
(ii) The following is an example from the long lines of the “Lycidas” of
2 Now, Lycidas, || the
shepherds weep no more;
1 Henceforth || thou art the genius of the shore
3 In thy large recompense, || and shalt be good
2½ To all that wander || in that perilous flood.
Milton, too, is careful to
vary the position of his cæsura; and most of the music and much of the beauty of
his blank verse depend upon the fact that the cæsura appears now at the
beginning, now at the middle, now and the end of his lines; and never in the
same place in two consecutive verses.
(iii) Of all the great
writers of English verse, Pope is the one who places the cæsura worst—worst,
because it is almost always in the same place. Let us take an example from his
“Rape of the Lock” (canto i.):—
2 The busy sylphs
|| surround their darling care,
2 These set the head, ||
and these divide the hair;
2 Some fold the sleeve, || whilst others
plait the gown;
2 And Betty’s praised || for
labours not her own.
And so he goes on for
thousands upon thousands of verses. The symbol of Pope’s cæsura is a straight
line; the symbol of Milton’s is “the line of beauty”—a line of perpetually
varying and harmonious curves.
A Stanza is a
The word comes from an old Italian word, stantia, an abode.
34. Two rhymed lines are called a
couplet; and this may be looked upon as the shortest kind of stanza.
(i) The most usual couplet
in English consists of two rhymed iambic pentameter lines. This is called the “heroric couplet.”
A stanza of
lines is called a triplet.
(i) A very good example is to be found in Tennyson’s poem of “The Two
Voices,” which consists entirely of triplets:—
“Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly longed for death.”
36. A stanza of
lines—of which the first (sometimes) rhymes with the third, and the second
(always) with the fourth—is called a
(i) The ordinary ballad
metre consists of quatrains—that is, four lines, two of iambic tetrameter, and
two of iambic trimeter.
(ii) A quatrain of iambic pentameters is called Elegiac Verse. The best known example is Gray’s
“Elegy in a Country Churchyard.”
37. A stanza of
six lines is
called a sextant.
(i) There are many kinds. One is used in Hood’s “Dream of Eugene Aram,”
which is written in 4xa and 3xa; the second, fourth, and sixth lines
(ii) Another in Whittier’s
“Barclay of Ury,” which has the first and second lines, the third and sixth, the
fourth and fifth, rhyming with each other.
(iii) Another in Lowell’s “Yussouf,”
which has the first and third lines, the second and fourth, and the fifth and
A stanza of
eight lines is
called an octave, or
A stanza of
nine lines is
called the Spenserian stanza, because Edmund Spenser employed it in his
(i) The first eight lines of this stanza are in 5xa; the last line, in
(ii) The rhymes run thus:
40. A short poem of
iambic pentameter lines—with the rhymes arranged in a peculiar way—is called a
(i) This is a form which
has been imported into England from Italy, where it was cultivated by many
poets—the greatest among these being Dante and Petrarch, both of them poets of
the thirteenth century. The best English sonnet-writers are Milton, Wordsworth,
and Mrs Browning.
(ii) The sonnet consists of two parts—an octave (of eight lines), and a
sestette (of six). The
rhymes in the octave are often varied, being sometimes abba, acca: those in the sestette are sometimes abc, abc; or ababcc.
“Sonnets” are not formed on the Italian model, and can hardly be called sonnets
at all. They are really short poems of three quatrains, ending in each case with
a rhymed couplet.
(iv) The following is Wordsworth’s sonnet on “The
“Scorn not the Sonnet;
critic, you have frowned
Mindless of its just
honours: with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his
heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave
ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this
pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens
soothed an exile’s grief;
The sonnet glittered a
gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with
which Dante crowned
His visionary brow; a
It cheered mild Spenser,
called from fairyland
To struggle through dark
ways; and when a damp
Fell round the path of
Milton, in his hand
The thing became a
trumpet, whence he blew
strains—alas, too few!”
consists of two long or accented syllables. It is a foot not employed
in English; but it exists in the two words